The Glance of Shiva

I first met Shiva one evening during my freshman year at college. That day I had been speaking to a friend who meditated, and after he left, I thought I would try it. I sat on the bed cross legged, closed my eyes, and dedicated almost three whole minutes before deciding i was entirely unimpressed. I had closed my eyes and seen nothing. Feeling drowsy i lay down for a short nap. What woke me up was the sound of gasping and choking – it was my own breathing. I could open my eyes enough to see that my body was as rigid as a marble slab and just as impossible to move, and then saw it jerking and shaking as i struggled with all my strength to gain control. But suddenly i was going, being sucked through a tunnel.
I became aware of the sound of wind chimes and found myself seated in full lotus posture in the center of a grass hut about 20 feet in diameter. But now i had a male body, was bare chested, wearing a loincloth, and nothing like my usual self. I had the thought: “I feel like i am God.”

Into this grass hut came a young woman. She knelt down and started weeping about the world’s suffering – really sobbing her heart out. From the perfect detachment of my lotus posture, I glanced at her and out of the corner of my eye started streaming the entire story of human kind. The story was composed of music. This music streaming out of my eye was so overwhelmingly beautiful and profound that there are no words to describe it. My glance was willing the universe and human history into existence. Within the music I saw eons of intense and sincere longing, passion, effort, striving, desiring, suffering, need and love driving the human experience. This glance was pure intention, saturate with brilliantly melodic love. It is hard to say what the music sounded like – it was choral singing, but if the beauty of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is one degree, this music was 360 degrees of glorious vocal sound – simply beyond the capacity of my normal nervous system to bear. It was so acutely exquisite and profound that molten teardrops cascaded down my face and fell to the ground as the creation poured out of my eye into the eye of the young woman.
Then I awoke in my bed, in my dorm room, back at school and to the familiar. In the weeks and months that followed I remembered the incident privately not knowing what to make of it.

Shiva in Myth and Legend

Some years later I would meet my teacher Swami Muktananda, and would learn about the god Shiva, and the mythic story of creation in which Shiva creates the universe through his glance.
This opening and closing of Shiva’s eyes is called “Unmesha-Nimesha”

The story goes that Shiva opens his eyes to will the Universe into being (this is called “emission” ) and is so moved by its beauty that he sheds tears of compassion – which when they drop to earth become the seeds called “rudraksha” or tears of Rudra (another name for Shiva). The rudraksha is thus a seed bead that is sacred to Shiva and which Shiva devotees wear in rudraksha malas around their neck or wrists.

Where once i thought of myths as archaic, imaginary and wildly fictitious fairly tales, I came to understand they may contain deep esoteric truths within their structures.

In describing such a vision of creation the 12th century mystic Hildegaard of Bingen wrote:

To the Trinity be praise!
God is music, God is life
that nurtures every creature in its kind.
Our God is the song of the angel throng
And the splendor of secret ways,
Hid from all human kind
But God our God is the life of all.

Kashmiri Shaivism

A branch of Tantric philosophy and practice dating from around 850-900 CE, called Kashmiri Shivaism, produced a rich lineage of realized masters and their writings. A Shaivite Tantric text called the Spanda Karika opens with these words:
“We laud that Shiva by whose mere opening and shutting of the eyes there is the appearance and dissolution of the world…”
To laud or venerate Shiva in meditation is to venerate the transparent formless reality principle which is the pure, subtlest luminosity of existence-consciousness. In the Spanda school, Shiva’s glance, or “Shiva drishthi” in Sanskrit, is defined as the ceaseless vibration of existence – consciousness. Another Shaivite text, the Shiva Sutra, opens with the declaration: “Chaitanyam Atma”: God is Consciousness. Awareness is the supremely gracious reifying principle, generously endowing the creation with the quality of being real. That awareness which supports your being is the glance of Shiva. If you are a student of yoga, you are probably familiar with Patanjali’s opening lines of the Yoga Sutra: Yogaschitta vritti nirodha/ Tada drashtu svarupe vasthanam: (Yoga is the stilling of the vrittis of the mind. Then the seer abides in his own true nature). That seer, the drashtu, a variant on drishti, refers to this inner witness of all reality which is the very same “glance” of Shiva.

In Muktananda’s ashram we sang a Shaivite text every day, The Guru Gita, which like many Tantric texts takes place as an intimate dialogue between Shiva and his consort Shakti. This text extols the Guru principle as the unfailing bridge that crosses the individual over to union with Shiva.
Verses 59/60 go like this, describing the Guru-drishti or glance:

sampadaa.m vyartha drishti;
tat-padaarthaika-drishti srishti


Nivasatu mayi nitya.m
“sriiguror divya drishti
May the Divine blessing of his
Glance always dwell upon me.
His gaze creates all the worlds, and
makes everything fully to flourish.

His perspective is from the Sacred
seeing that wealth is of no use.
His Divine gaze removes all faults,
It is focused solely on the highest Truth,

Like Vedic fire, his glance burns
away illusions.
His only goal — to lead others
on the path granting full freedom.

His gaze is the central support
of the theater of this world,
It showers the nectar of compassion,
and contains all cosmic principles.

His glance is sat-cid-aananda:
existence, consciousness and bliss,
the pure delight of Self-Knowingness

Becoming Shiva: Understanding the Power of our Perception

One of the foundational bedrocks of Shaivism is that the appropriate way to worship Shiva is to dispense with the worshipper/ deity dichotomy and to become Shiva. That night in my dorm room, Shiva, true to one of his names, Hari, which means thief, hi-jacked me and made me become him, but later i understood that whether it is recognized it or not, i am always participating in God’s power of becoming by creating my experience of the world through my own glance. Like the mantra says, “Shivo’ham”: I Am Shiva. We are all personally endowed with Shiva’s drishti, the “power of the look,” co- creating our experiences with what we project through our glance of awareness.

A 10th century text by Kshemraj, Prayabhijna Hrdayam, the Doctrine of Recognition, makes this point explicitly:
Tathāpi tadvatpañcakṛtyāni karoti (Sutra 10)
“Even in it’s limited condition, the individual soul performs the same five functions – (creation, dissolution, sustenance, concealment and grace/revelation), as does the Absolute Shiva.”

When you look at the Nataraj image of Shiva – Shiva doing the “tandava” dance of creation, you can see in his hand gestures the symbolism of these five divine acts: Creation, Sustenance, Dissolution, Grace and Concealment or Void. It is interesting to contemplate these functions, and to ask in what way Kshemaraj is correct when he says “Even in its limited condition the individual soul performs the same five functions as Shiva”. He is saying that we all have and use these powers in our lives. Observing how this is so, even on the mental level as to how our thoughts are expressions of these five powers, is a simple way to do the effort of identifying with the Supreme principle. Actively contemplating one’s identity with Shiva is perhaps the main sadhana of Shaivism.

At the risk of annoying the physicists, it is given even to a layperson to understand that according to the findings of quantum physics, consciousness has a fully essential role in the manifestation of reality. The famous double slit experiment consistently demonstrates the part played by awareness in molding the nature of measurable physical reality. Quantum objects behave differently depending on how they are observed and the act of observation would appear to compel an electron to assume a definite position. That reifying observing power is the Shiva drishti

We can explore this creative potential of the observer, the drishti, to understand in what ways we are shaping the reality in which we live, especially the social reality. Through what lens do we creatively view the human beings around us? The gaze of my Guru, Swami Muktananda, carried in it the unmistakeable conviction of one’s ultimate eternal nature – what Patanjali called “svarupa.” I was very afraid to look at him because his earth -shaking glance (he rarely held a gaze for more than a moment) upheld the awareness of non-dual reality while simultaneously obliterating my egoic sense of self. To look at him even briefly eye to eye was to gaze into eternity and to lose one’s boundaries, which was not always easy to bear sanely. Shiva’s glance creates as well as destroys. In myth, Shiva dissolves the illusory separation of created beings by a glance from his third eye. The glance from the third eye is the dissolution of dualistic perception and the dissolution of all mental and emotional categories which is the act of Shiva’s grace.

The Act of Recognition: Pratyabhijna

With our glance we create each other. If we choose the viewpoint of seeing the “others” around us as variations of the one divine seamless energy, we are aligning our glance with the power of the non-dual view of Shiva. This reverential divinizing gaze, which Martin Buber describes as “I-Thou”, is an act of recognition. That recognition, called “pratyabhijna,” is the cognitive work of Kashmiri Shaivism,

When people asked him to define himself, Baba often used to say “I am as you see me” and you will see similar statements from realized sages and saints. Jesus asked a number of his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” and there were as many answers forthcoming. Often through their viewpoint, people project onto the enlightened, and indeed onto the unenlightened, their own flaws and motivations, so that the greedy think they are out for money, the power driven accuse them of being ambitious and those with unintegrated sexual drives are sure they are out for sexual conquest. The “world is as you see it” is another saying my Guru was fond of quoting – in Sanskrit: “drishti shristhi.” It required a lot of strength to maintain oneself in Muktananda’s presence. His unflinching conviction of the unitive nature radiated an energy. His resolute extinction of the subject/object dichotomy changed the surrounding atmosphere into a crucible of enlightening  spiritual fire.

I had an unusually dramatic experience of this one evening after the long chant that was held every night in the ashram’s central courtyard. The chant was one of my favorites: at the end of the day, sitting in the moonlight on the cool marble of the courtyard in India, we sang a sweetly haunting text called the Shiva Mahimna Stotram, containing descriptions and praises of the mythical activities and attributes of Shiva.

The Three “Malas,” Veils that Cloud our True Nature

That night after the chant i realized i was no longer wearing my rudraksha bracelet, called a “mala.” it was nowhere to be found. I felt bad about that as i had very few possessions and that rudraksha rosary had been one of them. However in passing by Muktananda’s chair i saw that the marble lion statue that stood on his end table had my mala perched on the crown of it’s head – I knew the bracelet was definitely mine because the beads had blue paint on them that had spilled that afternoon while i had been serving on a painting project. I was about to surreptitiously snatch the mala from the lion’s head when a nearby swami admonished me strongly that i had better ask Muktananda for it.
By now i’d had so many non-ordinary experiences from contact with the Guru that i was loathe to initiate an encounter, but i knew if i wanted that mala back, i would have to do it. I took a deep breath, stood before him, and pointing to the bracelet on the lion’s head, announced “That’s my mala.” Years later i would understand that the word “mala” is a homonym for the three types of illusions, called the anava mala, karma mala, and mayiya mala, that Kashmiri Shivaism says conceal our svarupa, our true, eternal, Shiva nature.

Instead of handing it to me, Baba took the bracelet in his hand, looked at me fiercely and started to twirl the mala around his index finger. As the mala spun it glittered in the dark, reminding me momentarily of the “Sudarshana Chakra,” that shining disk weapon that Vishnu spins around his index finger.
As the bracelet whirled, Muktananda was speaking to me loudly and forcefully – yelling, really: “That’s not your mala!….That’s not your mala!…Thats not your mala! Its not yours… but you can have it!!”
With that the mala came flying at me and hit me in the chest. Upon contact i began to ascend rapidly up into the air. Within a split second i was surveying the courtyard from miles above the earth, but i could see it in detail as well as the long white cord that connected me to it. The sound of those last words were ringing through space as i felt myself expanding into the sky: “Not yours…But you can have it! …Not yours…But you can have it!” was repeating to the sound of Muktananda’s laughter. Knowing my self as infinitely extending, timeless and unlimited, made the petty idea of something being “mine” seem downright hilarious. I gradually contracted back to my usual size and shape but of course was struck dumb with ecstasy. Every cell in my body was pealing, ringing softly like millions of bells with inexpressible delight. Muktananda had used a sly pun on my rudraksha bracelet to rid me momentarily of the three malas, the illusory masks that keep the soul from experiencing itself as the all-pervasive, undifferentiated mass of bliss consciousness.

I sat for a long while immobilized there in the courtyard while the ashram residents filed by, mostly looking at me with pity or disapproval as they had just seen me yelled at, hit with an object and loudly reprimanded by the Guru.

One never knew from observing the exterior what was going on in Muktananda’s interactions.

Mystical Sexuality in Tantric Shaivism

To be a Shiva Yogi is to be a practitioner of Tantra. In keeping with its essence, Tantra defies definition or cultural categorization. You will find its principles within mystical systems the world over. Sometimes i will say “The term Tantra is misunderstood in the West to be all about sex.” But this too isnt really accurate. As in many mystical traditions, Shaivite Tantra makes extensive us of triads, triangles or, in the Shiva myth, the trident or trishula. In fact a nick-name for Kashmiri Shivaism is “Trika.” Such Tantric trinities are symbolic cognitive tools with which to comprehend the unity within duality. This is the realization that the knower, the known and the knowing are one in essence. Shiva in his mythical attributes combines oppositions. and he is the perfect meeting place of the pairs of opposites, such as Subject/Object, Inner/Outer, Male/Female, Finite/Infinite, Eros/Thanatos. All this meeting of opposites has a pervasive erotic component. For the Tantric practitioner the pleasure and delight of sexual love is expanded to encompass every kind of experience. As Swami Lakshman Joo, the revered Kashmiri Shaivite mystic and scholar commented: “The truth is that all contacts are sexual, all sense contacts are sexual. In this way, hearing is a sexual contact. Seeing is a sexual contact. Smelling is a sexual contact. Touching is a sexual contact. Tasting is a sexual contact.” Lakshmanjoo calls this unification charya-krama. A Tantric yogi can take a moment of recognition and a so-called ordinary sense experience becomes a clandestine kiss from God.

One of the most ancient and elemental representations of Shiva is the Shiva Lingam, the phallus shaped stone emerging from a base called a yoni, which is the word for female genitalia. You will see that same representation of the primordial power in other ancient traditions, such as the Celtic phallic stone on the hill of Tara, (called the the Lia Fáil – the stone of destiny). What is interesting to practitioners is the interior linga, sometime called the jyotir linga, linga of light, or the prana linga, in the subtle body. In meditation a yogi can distinguish the feel of energy arising through the central channel and can oblate that prana linga with the arising and subsiding of the breath. Becoming a lover of God is not as much of a metaphor as it is an actual experience of the bliss of this contact. When after this experience i read that Jesus said “I am the Vine…” and when he spoke of the “rivers of living water that will flow from your center,” i understood what supremely perfect joy he was describing. In venerating the life force as a river of life-giving light that pours through the spinal centers, the yogi merges in the gracious refuge, the deeply soothing cosmic shelter of God’s effulgent glance.

The penetration of the heart center with the prana linga, which is metaphorically expressed as an arrow through the heart, is the real experience of piercing ecstasy that St Teresa of Avila wrote about. Linga means phallus but it is also at the root of our word “lingual” referring to the tongue (and language). The Shiva linga within your subtle body is tasting reality through your uniquely configured chakras. Aroused by love it is a flame that flickers causing devastation to one’s person. Perhaps the “tongues of fire” experience of the disciples upon the Pentecost refers to this sort of annihilating flickering fire.

When you love God, or open yourself to any kind of love, you are giving God the taste of the infinite in your heart, because love is the feeling of the infinite, and opening your heart makes Him swell and leap within it. The Divine energy is true to another one of its names: “Ashutosh” which means “easily pleased.” This means your slightest inclination to love is eagerly met with divine pleasure. When we pursue a meditative practice that is imbued with this love play, whereby you are intimately experiencing mutual penetration with God or the Goddess, it brings profound satiety. The Tantric yogi learns that all sense pleasures can be offered as a kind of oblation to the inner glance of Shiva, the reality principle, and that enjoying our life becomes the highest worship
St Teresa of Avila Wrote:
I gave all my heart to the Lord of Love,
And my life is so completely transformed
That my Beloved One has become mine
And without a doubt I am His at last.
When that tender hunter
Released his piercing arrow through me,
My wounded soul fell in His loving arms;
And my life is so completely transformed
That my Beloved One has become mine
And without a doubt I am His at last.
He pierced my heart with his arrow of love
And made me one with the Lord who made me.
This is the only love I have to prove,
And my life is so completely transformed
That my Beloved One has become mine
And without a doubt I am His at last.

Another one of hers:

Just these two words He spoke
changed my life,
“Enjoy Me.”
What a burden I thought I was to carry –
a crucifix, as did He.
Love once said to me, “I know a song,
would you like to hear it?”
And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every atom of the sky.
After a night of prayer, He
changed my life when
He sang,
“Enjoy Me.”

Shiva as Void:  “Maha Shunya”

When we think of Shiva, we often remember his designation as the “destroyer” aspect of the Hindu trinity consisting of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer, and Shiva, the destroyer. We have to understand that what is destroyed by the Shiva principle is the convinced belief in one’s own body-identified individual ego. “Bhairava” is the aspect of Shiva which is void, and this void is the goal of all the formal worship. It took me some practice before i began to appreciate or recognize nothingness and emptiness as ‘something’ to value, love and savor intensely. Shiva is the formless one, but willingly takes form for the sake of love. The lover of Shiva pursues complete annihilation.

All the personification of Shiva, the regard to Shiva’s forms as light, energy, sound, has the goal of leading the yogi to the void experience beyond form. A Shaivite yogi can approach this void experience, which is “nirvikalpa samadhi,” through love. Shiva, which is the Guru principle, will take the devotee into the “terrible” void, the maha shunya, through the agency of love. So you love yourself into annihilation.
There is a stanza from the Guru Gita making reference to the experience of the formless absolute:
Pinde muktah pade muktah rupe muktah varanane
Rupatite tu ye muktaas te mukta natra samshaya.

“O beautiful one, they are liberated in “pinda” (whose kundalini is awake). They are liberated in “pada” (who hear the spontaneous repetition of ham-sah). They are liberated in “rupa” (who envision the blue pearl). But there is no doubt those who are liberated in “rupatita” (who experience the transcendental state behind form) are definitely liberated”

The Tantrik treatise, Dīkṣottara, tells us that only absorption in the Void or “the Spanda” grant highest liberation. On the Void, it teaches: “The Yogin should contemplate the supreme firmament, devoid of quality, beyond contact, without lunar mansions and constellations, as resembling transparent crystal; fully merging his mind into the Void, located in the Void, identified with the Void, one attains final liberation.” (Dīkṣottara 2.18-19, trans. S. Vāsudeva)

The moment of encounter with the maha shunya, the great void, is a terrible shock to the system – it may feel like the shattering of the illusions of a million lifetimes. You will know what all the advaita talk of “illusion” and unreality is truly about, because for some time afterward everything seems fake and false, and even natural landscape features appear to be props in a play.

In my view, this dreadful experience beyond form is a gift of grace, and although we can practice dharanas and various sadhanas, it cannot be willed or implemented though effort. The Guru tattva (principle) seated at the third eye – the ajna chakra – alone sanctions the passage of consciousness into the absolute void – the rupatita. This occurs as a result of love and surrender. I believe this is what is meant by the phrase “circumcision in the spirit” because it is an initiation – an irreversible energetic opening which permits the merging of Kundalini Shakti into the crown chakra, the sahasrara. The Kundalini stabilizing in the sahasrara brings a sense of peace and completion that ceaselessly radiates from your core. It is then you will viscerally know that “The Beloved One has become mine / And without a doubt I am His at last.”

My Guru, Swami Muktananda guided me in phases of sadhana long before I knew about the philosophies and texts of the yoga canon, but having had some experiences I was able at times to recognize what these texts expound. One day, a year or so after our meeting, I ran across a book of photos from the early years of discipleship under his Guru, Nityananda. The chills ran up my spine when I came upon a picture of him in front of the shelter where he meditated intensely prior to his enlightenment- it was a grass hut, about 20 feet in diameter.

May the Divine Glance of the Guru ever dwell upon you,
Mary Reilly Nichols 12/26/16



  1. Sam Vishal says:

    Hello Mary,

    I follow your posts closely. You give me so much hope as I meditate with little or practically no progress. I feel blessed that I got to read your experience. Hopefully if I come to New York, I can meet and meditate with you.

    Deepest regards,
    Sam Vishal
    Toronto Canada

    • Sam,I am moved by your voice. If you will send me your address, or an address where i can send something to you, i will send you a copy of Muktananda’s biography “Play of Consciousness”
      Or if youre more comfortable with it,please get a copy for yourself.
      In that book he tells of his spiritual experiences after receiving Shaktipat diksha, the awaking of Kundalini. Muktananda’s Guru was Bhagwan Nityananda. His successor is Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. Making even a small connection with any of these beings will give you, to put it mildly, a huge boost in your spiritual progress. These teachers do not require you to “worship” them. You can adhere to any formal worship or none.
      Once the Shakti is awakened you are able to receive God’s Grace from any and every saint and tradition. Your longing for God is the rarest of gifts. I am sending a divine Ray of His Light to you right now. Feel it rising like a sweet cooling flame shining in your center.
      Thank you for your recognition,

      • Sam Vishal says:

        Hello Mary,

        It is so nice to get your prompt response.
        Thank you for the suggestions; I did read Play of Consciousness and a few texts of teachings of Bhagwan Nityananda. I have been meditating on and off which brings me mental piece but of late the longing to be with my Ishta Dev – Lord Krishna has become very strong. I chant some Mantra and meditate and do some Kriya yoga but doing it regularly is still no tin my nature.

        Devine ray of his light from you is so much more than I can ask for. You just made my day or may be my life. Thank you,

        I will meditate with renewed zeal and will keep in touch.
        My deepest regards,

  2. Sam Vishal says:

    Hello Mary,

    It is so nice to get your prompt response.
    Thank you for the suggestions; I did read Play of Consciousness and a few texts of teachings of Bhagwan Nityananda. I have been meditating on and off which brings me mental piece but of late the longing to be with my Ishta Dev – Lord Krishna has become very strong. I chant some Mantra and meditate and do some Kriya yoga but doing it regularly is still no tin my nature.

    Devine ray of his light from you is so much more than I can ask for. You just made my day or may be my life.
    Thank you,

    I will meditate with renewed zeal and will keep in touch.
    My deepest regards,

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